New England Patriots defensive stalwart and leader Rob Ninkovich has decided to call it a career, and will be making the move official later today at a 12:15 pm press conference. There had been growing speculation about Ninkovich’s future, as he skipped New England’s first three practices this offseason, including Saturday’s first day in full pads. Patriots coach Bill Belichick disclosed Friday that Ninkovich has been absent from training camp due to “personal reasons”.
Ninkovich was on his way to a journeyman style of a career before signing with the Patriots to little fanfare prior to the 2009 season. The Purdue product bounced around the NFL – and the football field. The former fifth round pick started his career as a defensive end with the New Orleans Saints in 2006 and spent the next two seasons with the Miami Dolphins as an outside linebacker. In late 2008, Ninkovich returned to the Saints and was converted to long snapper, but the experiment did not last, and he was released..
New England brought him on board, and he has been a core member of the team’s defense ever since. As a linebacker and defensive edge, he had appeared in 140 games for the Patriots over the last eight seasons, registering 52.0 sacks and six interceptions in the process and helped the franchise win two Super Bowls. Now, Ninkovich is on to the next chapter of his life.
For the Patriots, the retirement means that the team loses its longest-tenured defender and now has to replace experience and leadership, consistency and productivity against the pass and the run. It also comes as a surprise because his performance hadn’t dropped off and he was under contract through 2017. And while Trey Flowers is locked into one starting spot, Kony Ealy, Derek Rivers, Geneo Grissom and Deatrich Wise Jr. are now fighting for the other.